Taking a leaf from its Billion Tree Tsunami in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI has decided to upscale the model on the national level. This past Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan planted a tree sapling in Haripur district that kicked off a campaign which hopes to plant 10 billion trees across the nation in the next five years. Whatever one might think of the PTI, it certainly can’t be accused of lacking ambition. Should its plan come to fruition, it would be the largest environmental uplift project in the country’s history. The PTI has been admirable in its focus on vital environmental issues, with Imran taking the lead by mentioning climate change as one of the major challenges facing the government in his first speech after the elections. Deforestation in Pakistan will worsen the impact of climate change and has already led to more severe flooding. Any attempt to reverse this trend should be welcomed by everyone regardless of political ideology. For the government, the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami should be seen as a starting point and not the final destination. Pakistan is expected to be hit worse than most other countries by climate change and so we have to adapt to the challenges of tomorrow. This means practising water conservation and shifting power consumption to sustainable energy choices.
The government will have to be careful as it launches its tree-planting campaign; simply planting new tress won’t be enough. The new trees will take years to mature and in that time the tide of deforestation has to be stemmed by reining in the timber mafia. Commercial interests often collude with unscrupulous government officials to chop down trees on public lands. This should no longer be tolerated. The government also needs to work with experts to ensure that the trees it is planting are suitable for our climate and soil. Planting the wrong kind of trees, which require extra water, can often be worse than not planting any trees at all. The government has to be a responsible steward of the environment. Good intentions, while a prerequisite, is only half the battle. The PTI has shown that it is sincere but will ultimately be judged on how well it follows through on its promises.